We woke the first morning in Weston’s cabin to see a moose across the creek feeding. In fact, we saw so many moose we decided they were an insurgency, and declared them to be the Moosahadeen.
Beaver, muskrat and other four legged creatures thrived under a sky filled with raptors of one kind or another. Once crossing the raging Tannana we witnessed an aerial battle of a bald eagle and a falcon of some kind. Large and slow the eagle was easily out maneuvered by the falcon that rose high the folded its wings to plunge toward the eagle. The larger bird seemed to know when to pull up, flip over on its back and bear its talons toward the on rushing foe. Two or three times they collided like this, until finally, locked in a mortal grasp, unable or unwilling to let go, they fell to earth together. We had noted a mated pair of eagles sitting together on a tree earlier. Perhaps the content of the nest was in issue.
Nor is life on the 80 Mile Clearwater Creek all cocktails and engaging conversation for genus species homo sapiens. John’s wife Mary fills the role of frontier wife. From the time she is up until the time she goes to bed there is a steady stream of coffee and food from the kitchen and parenting of the three boys the Weston’s had managed to generate in 16 years of marriage. The birth of twins were a hell of shock for John, natures little joke as John was well into his 50’s at the time. Mary dresses them in different colors to tell them apart. Even then I couldn’t make their differences out. It is good that there are two because they are so “active” I am concerned we might lose one in the dangers of the wild.
I also noticed that anyone who lives there any significant amount of time lacks the flab one sees in town. The wood chopping of course leads to heat and cooking, but we also hauled in propane and gasoline to run generators and other devices that made for hot showers and the radio. This means a long boat ride and drive into town, and lots of muscle. Food of course is hauled in as well. The cabins themselves always have some kind of need; a repair there, a ditch dug to or from, an improvement here. The work is constant, and the wolf is not far from the door.
Far away from any road or rescue of any kind, Weston’s cabin is well armed. A bear gun hangs about 6’ above the table we eat at, and a smaller rifle and pistol near the door. In the event John wakes up in the night finding some bear has broken into the front room and he cannot get to the gun, he has a spare slug master shotgun in the bedroom that looks like something the Space Marines carried into conflict against the monster in Aliens.
This is wise. Not so long ago, an individual calling himself Timothy Treadwell decided to camp out with the bears in the Katmai National Park and Preserve to conduct “research” about the ability of humans to co-exist where bears live. He and his girlfriend were denied a permit to do so by the National Park Service, in so far as Treadwell, whose real name is Timothy Dexter, had only a high school diploma, and proposed no research of meaningful value. But they went anyway. He claimed during interviews on Letterman, Good Morning America and the like to have a “special gift” which allowed him to live among the bears. Dexter was originally from New Jersey where his parents still live, but told people he was an orphan from Australia or at different times England. In soliciting donations he trumpeted the fact he employed no pepper spray, no electric fence around his camp, and carried no gun. The plan was to demonstrate love to the bears. The bears apparently missed the broadcast and Dexter and his girlfriend were found mauled to death in the summer of 2004.
Alaskans still talk about the couple quite a bit when discussing how little outsiders really understand what it means to live in there. Living with nature, living “green” in our popular culture has a significant number of facts missing, i.e. wild animals can be dangerous even though we think we ought to protect them. A fraud based on media hype is soon found out and it is not homo sapiens that unveils the truth, and often not even Ursus Horribilus pulls back the veil of popular myth to disclose the harsh reality of life in the wild.
I left a book by John Krakauer called Into the Wild at Weston’s cabin. This is the story of Christopher McCandless, a young angry man who decided to leave all of us and our impurities behind and reside in some kind of Thoreau like dream world. His story is one of rejecting his family and society at large, wandering through the lower 48 until he made the decision to reside in the wild of Alaska. He took very little with him, including little knowledge of what he was really getting himself into. Cut off behind a river that rose up after he crossed it, unable to bail on the dream, he starved to death in an abandoned bus.
My own eyes were opened during this year’s trip by the remarkable number of mosquitoes. Old timers remarked they were worse that year than usual. There were so many they were flying in formation and attacking in squadron strength. We could hear them calling to each other on John’s CB radio:
Red One this is Red Leader, Believe I have sited pink bodies at 3 o’clock, do you copy?
Copy that Red Leader.
Right, Red Flight this is Red Leader, Pinks at 3 o’clock low, Tallyho!
Then they would perform the wingover maneuver and light on us one at a time. We would swat them:
Red Three! Red Three! Pull Up! Pull Up! Red Three, look out for the hand! Oh Red Three, Jimmie, can you hear me?
Like the bears we showed no mercy.
It’s not that easy being green, no sir.